More than a week after Social Justice and Welfare Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot’s involvement was alleged in the Post Matric Scholarship scam, no minister in the Amarinder Singh Cabinet has spoken in their embattled colleague’s defence. On Wednesday, however, Amarinder’s close aide and political secretary Capt Sandeep Singh Sandhu came out in support of Dharamsot. Earlier, Capt Amarinder Singh too had said that he deserved a fair probe. Both Sandhu and Dharamsot jointly addressed a select group of mediapersons on Wednesday to refute allegations against the minister.
Revolt in the Congress high command, sources said, also seems to have come to Dharamsot’s rescue. A senior leader in Punjab Congress said the he had spoken to a party leader in Delhi about the alleged scam.
“The leader told me that the high command is busy handling its own issues. Hence, this issue is not a priority,” the leader said.
During Amarinder’s current regime earlier, the Congress high command had forced the state government to take resignation from former Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh over alleged irregularities in allocation of sand mines.
In Dharamsot’s case, even a week after the allegations came to light, no action has been taken. Dharamsot represents Nabha, an Assembly segment in Chief Minister’s home district. He is considered a loner but has often given statements in support of the Chief Minister. In a recent statement, he said that he is like a ‘seeri’ (servant) of Chief Minister and so are the other ministers.
Allegations against Dharamsot
In a report to Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, Administrative Secretary in the Social Justice Department, Kripa Shankar Saroj, had alleged that a scam of Rs 63.91 crore had come to light in the Centre’s scheme. He had said while records pertaining to Rs 39 crore were missing, an amount of Rs 16.91 crore was paid to such institutions against whom the audit team had recommended a recovery of Rs 8 crore, thus costing the state exchequer Rs 24.91 crore.
Saroj’s report had stated: “Under the PMS-SC scheme the GOI sent Rs 303 crore to Punjab during February -March 2019. Though the Directorate of Social Justice withdrew Rs 248 crore from the treasury, however, the department had then distributed this sum in an arbitrary manner. Significantly, records pertaining to Rs 39 crore are missing. Either this sum has been embezzled or paid to some ghost institutions.”
Further, it stated: “Interestingly, an amount of Rs 16.91 crore was paid to such institutions against which the audit team had recommended a recovery of Rs 8 crore, thus costing the state exchequer Rs 24.91 crore. If the amount of recoveries which the audit team had concluded are added to this Rs 16.91 crore, then these officials had cost the exchequer to the tune of Rs 24.91 crore. The minister and his team of officers, worked in tandem.”
“Payments were made to even those institutions which had been found out as defaulters by the FD audit team. Instead of effecting recoveries from those institutions, heavy payments were made at the level of Deputy Director, Parminder Singh Gill,” it added.
The state government has been on the defensive ever since the report came out, with CM Amarinder Singh ordering an inquiry into the entire episode by the Chief Secretary.
Defending Dharamsot, Capt Sandeep Sandhu on Wednesday said, “Just wait for the inquiry report by the Chief Secretary. Everything will be clear.”
Refuting the allegations, Dharamsot said there was no scam and every penny of the scholarship money was accounted for. He said it was strange that while Additional Chief Secretary Kripa Shankar Saroj conducted an inquiry into the case and submitted the report to the Chief Secretary, he as minister concerned was not even aware that such an inquiry was being conducted.
He also said that he was being “framed”. Dharamsot levelled counter-allegations against Saroj saying that he himself was the secretary of the department between 2015 and 2017 when a scam had taken place during Akalis regime. The incumbent government had conducted an inquiry into that scam. He said every single penny was accounted for as the money was released from the treasury of the government. But the secretary did not check the record, he said.
While opposition Akali Dal staged dharnas at all district headquarters to demand Dharamsot’s resignation on Wednesday, AAP too staged a protest in Ludhiana. Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Social Justice too is conducting a probe into the allegations.